Just As I Thought

Who are the People in My Neighborhood? (1940 Edition)

The release this week of the 1940 Census brings the past a lot closer to us — the 1930 census was just far enough away that it seemed like ancient history, but the 1940 census is filled with people we might actually know.

My little house was built in 1937, so it didn’t appear on the 1930 Census. But now I can learn about the people who lived in it only 3 years later — one might assume that they were the original owners of my home.

The release this week of the 1940 Census brings the past a lot closer to us — the 1930 census was just far enough away that it seemed like ancient history, but the 1940 census is filled with people we might actually know.

My little house was built in 1937, so it didn’t appear on the 1930 Census. But now I can learn about the people who lived in it only 3 years later — one might assume that they were the original owners of my home.

Everell Leslie, born in 1896 in Illinois, was a ward attendant at the state hospital. His wife Lillian (born in 1902 in Minnesota) worked at the same job. One can read between the lines to figure out where they might have met.

Lillian had a son from a previous marriage, Stanley Murphy. He was born in 1925 in Minnesota.

All three were White; scanning the entire record for my neighborhood shows that it was not racially diverse in any way.

In 1940, my house was worth $3,500 — $950 more than the house next door to the north, and $400 more than the one to the south. I don’t think this is the case today…

Both Ev and Lillian had four years of high school, and Stanley was in the 8th grade. At their jobs at the hospital, Ev and Lillian worked 48 hours a week. They both worked 52 weeks out of the year in 1939, and earned $600 each that year. That’s 24¢ an hour for those of you who don’t want to do the math. They made $11.50 a week, each. 72 years later, I own the same house they did, and I can’t pay the electric bill for $11.50 a week.

And yet, they were responsible and prosperous enough to purchase a sturdy two-bedroom bungalow with a lawn in suburban San Jose, California. The very same one that I now own. Here’s to you, Leslie Family.

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